Arts & Entertainment

Parade, service projects mark MLK Day in Southland

The 25th annual Kingdom Day Parade, commemorating today's Martin Luther King Jr. Day observance, was underway this morning in South Los Angeles despite cloudy skies and rain slickened streets.

Other Southland activities planned for what is considered a day of service include school beautification efforts in Van Nuys and East L.A. and a blood drive at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.

KABC-TV Channel 7 anchor Marc Brown was the grand marshal at the parade along with celebrity grand marshal actress-comedian Niecy Nash, host of the Style Network series Clean House.

Other participants included Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa; City Council members Janice Hahn, Bernard Parks, Jan Perry and Herb Wesson; Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, and Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Los Angeles.

Hahn, a longtime parade participant, told a local wire service she has "a real personal connection" to King because of what she called "one of the great moments for our family."

In 1961, her late father, longtime Los Angeles County Supervisor Kenneth Hahn, was the only elected official to accept a request to greet King when he arrived at Los Angeles International Airport for a Southland visit.

In a news conference during that visit, King said he was involved in a "new revolution" that sought "a complete breakdown in segregation," which he predicted would come "within seven to 10 years," and a "completely integrated society."

A group of Los Angeles Dodger minor leaguers taking part in the team's Winter Development Program were also scheduled to ride in the parade.

"The Dodgers are very proud to be a part of the Kingdom Day Parade for the second consecutive year," said team spokesman Josh Rawitch, citing the role played by African-American players with the Dodgers.

"Dr. King once told Don Newcombe that his efforts and the efforts of Jackie Robinson and Roy Campanella helped make his work in the civil rights movement that much easier," Rawitch said.

"Today, we feel it's important that our young prospects understand the importance of Dr. King's success and the role that the Dodger organization played in the integration of baseball more than 60 years ago."

In an attempt to fulfill the goal of having the holiday be a day of service, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is scheduled to join an estimated 200 volunteers in a schoolwide beautification effort at Van Nuys Middle School. A similar effort is planned for Belvedere Middle School in East Los Angeles.

Another service effort is a blood drive at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, which continues until 3 p.m.

Martin Luther King Jr. Day is also an opportunity to honor "the working men and women in this country," said Hahn, who pointed out that King had gone to Memphis, Tenn., where he was assassinated on April 4, 1968 at age 39, to support striking sanitation workers.

Parks said Martin Luther King Jr. Day "should be a day of celebration," but it is "important to reflect on who Martin Luther King was and what he represented, and understand that, although we celebrate his life one day a year, he provided principles and a legacy that really are tenets to live by every day of your life."

Martin Luther King Jr. Day provides the opportunity to remind young people that many current "day-to-day social graces" didn't exist before the civil rights movement, Parks said.

"They can go sit on a bus, they can sit at a candy counter, they can go and buy clothing, they can go to their Recreation and Parks swimming pool, they can go and live wherever they have sufficient funds to buy a house, they can vote, they can be educated not by a separate-but-equal rule," Parks said.

Ridley-Thomas said he hopes Martin Luther King Jr. Day will spur donations to Haitian earthquake relief.

"At this particular moment in time we need to be mindful that Martin Luther King was an international symbol of peace, justice and an advocate for nonviolence," said Ridley-Thomas, who was the executive director of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Greater Los Angeles from 1981 to 1991. King was the national organization's first president, serving until his death.

"In the international context, the crisis in Haiti is a prime opportunity for all of us to show our regard for human life and our compassion for others by being as generous and helpful as we possibly can," Ridley-Thomas said.

Martin Luther King Jr. Day was first celebrated as a federal holiday in 1986 under a bill signed by President Ronald Reagan. King and George Washington are the only Americans with federal holidays celebrating their birthdays.

King's activism in marches and speeches, most famously the "I Have a Dream" speech on the steps on the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., on Aug. 28, 1963, helped foster the passage of civil rights laws and the end of segregation.

In 1964, at age 35, King became the youngest person up to that time to receive the Nobel Peace Prize.